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How to crate train a puppy

Everyone needs their own space, and that goes for puppies too. Crate training is not about caging your beloved pup, it’s about giving them a safe space of their own and teaching them good habits at the same time.

Find out exactly how crate training can help you and your new puppy, in our guide to successful crate training.

Everyone needs their own space, and that goes for puppies too. Crate training is not about caging your beloved pup, it’s about giving them a safe space of their own and teaching them good habits at the same time.

Find out exactly how crate training can help you and your new puppy, in our guide to successful crate training.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
3 MARCH 2021
10 min read
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What is crate training?

Crate training is the process of getting your new puppy or dog to accept a crate, or indoor kennel as its ‘safe space’. Dogs are den-dwelling creatures by nature, and puppies appreciate having their own safe area to retreat to when the stresses of day-to-day life get too much.

Although it may look like one, it’s not meant to be a prison. It should be a place where your puppy enjoys spending time, not somewhere they feel confined and punished.

Crate training takes a fair bit of effort and patience but ultimately it helps you too, by teaching your puppy good habits and establishing boundaries so you can have a bit of space yourself.

What are the benefits of crate training my puppy?

We all know that feeling when things are getting too much and you just need some headspace. Dogs may be naturally social animals, but sometimes they need their own space too. Crate training gives your puppy their own safe place to go when they feel nervous, tired or stressed, and helps to give them a sense of security.

Establishing this association between the crate and security, is also useful for you as an owner. It means your dog is likely to be calmer in new situations and environments, because they have the reassurance of the crate to retreat to if they start feeling anxious. It can make travelling with your pet a lot easier too.

Crate training can also help keep you on track with other training. Training only really works if you’re there to guide your puppy in the right direction, rewarding them for good behaviour and steering them away from bad habits. All your hard work can easily be derailed if a puppy has free rein to chew and pee on the furniture when you’re not around, with no one to tell them not to.

Crate training works hand in hand with toilet training because even from an early age, puppies don’t like going to the toilet where they sleep. Once your puppy learns to associate the cage with rest and sleeping, it can also help establish good sleeping patterns.

Puppies can be hard work, and they need a lot of time and attention. Once you’ve mastered crate training, your puppy gets its own space in the house and you get a secure place to put your puppy when you need to go out for a short while – or when you just have to get something done and need a little break from supervision duties.

How do I choose a crate for my puppy?

Dog crates come in a range of different sizes, just like dogs. When choosing a crate, make sure it’s big enough for your pooch to easily stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. And don’t forget to factor in space for their bedding and some toys too.

When deciding on a size, don’t forget to consider how big your puppy is going to get. If your pup still has a lot of growing to do, a smaller crate might work best at first, before upgrading to a larger crate further down the line. Or, if you have a very large puppy crate, you could try using a divider panel to adjust the size of the crate as your pup grows.

Dog crates are normally either made from thick wire or fabric. There are pros and cons to both styles and your choice depends on your own style preferences and the behaviour of your puppy:

  • Fabric crates are lightweight and easier to move. Your puppy might appreciate the increased privacy, but these crates can be easier for your puppy to chew and harder to keep clean.
  • Wire crates are stronger, more stable and easier to clean. But your puppy may feel more exposed, and possibly not as comfy or warm compared to snuggling up in a fabric version.

When should I start crate training my puppy?

You can start crate training as soon as you bring your new puppy home. Habits are easier to form earlier on and you’ll want your pup to get used to the crate being a normal part of life as soon as possible. Wait too long and it’s more likely to cause it stress.

Some puppies will have already started crate training at their breeder’s home or shelter, so continuing the process can help smooth the transition into their new home.

How long does crate training take?

That depends on a variety of things, like your dog’s personality, age and past experiences. Some puppies will master it in days, others may take weeks. Regardless of how fast a learner your dog is, crate training won’t happen overnight – it’s a series of small steps. It’s important not to rush. Only move on when you’re sure your puppy is relaxed and ready.

How do I crate train my dog? 

Slow and steady is the key to successful crate training. It’s all about using repetition and slowly increasing its exposure to the crate, to build a positive and happy relationship between puppy and crate. By following and repeating these steps, you’ll have your puppy fully settled into your household in no time:

  • Decide where you want your crate. Dogs are social animals so ideally it should be somewhere where you spend a lot of time, like the kitchen or living room. The crate should be out of direct sunlight and away from radiators or fires, so your pup isn’t at risk of heatstroke, and in a decluttered area that won’t be too distracting.
  • Prepare the crate while your puppy is out of the room. Pop it in your chosen spot, with the door secured open and put your puppy’s bedding inside to make it snuggly and inviting.
  • When the crate’s ready, let your puppy into the room and let them investigate the crate on their own terms. You can sit beside it to draw them over, but don’t force them to go inside.
  • If they show any interest in the crate, or go inside it, reward your puppy with treats and praise.
  • If they do go inside, don’t close the door – you could upset them, and you don’t want your puppy to form negative associations with the crate.
  • After the initial introduction, you can put toys or treats inside the crate to encourage your puppy to spend time there. Don’t force it. Crate training won’t work if they end up seeing the crate as a punishment.
  • Once your puppy is happily going in and out of the crate, you can start on the next step of feeding your puppy inside the crate. If they still seem a little nervous, begin by feeding them beside their crate so they start associating it with good experiences. Gradually move their food bowl inside the crate, edging it further in each mealtime. Use a command cue word or phrase when you place your puppy’s food inside the crate, like ‘in your bed’ or ‘crate’, so they start to associate that command with going to the crate. Remember to give them a treat and praise when they do go into the crate.
  • Once your puppy’s comfortable with eating inside the crate, shut the door while they’re eating. Open it again as soon as they’ve finished their food. Repeat this step for several mealtimes until your puppy seems completely relaxed with the door being shut. If your puppy shows signs of distress, open the door.
  • Start leaving the door closed for a few minutes longer after mealtimes, gradually increasing the amount of time they’re spending inside the crate. But if they show any signs of distress, reopen the door. Ideally, your pup will start to lie down and settle in the crate after they’ve finished eating.
  • Once your pup has mastered settling in the crate with the door closed, try stepping away from them, building up to leaving the room and staying away for longer.
  • When your puppy is happy to settle in the closed crate after feeding, you can start using crate time outside of mealtimes, using the command cue and rewarding them with praise and treats.

Crating your dog when you go out

If your puppy can stay in the crate for half an hour or so without getting stressed, you can start leaving them in there when you go out.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Use toys or treats to encourage them inside the crate – five to 20 minutes before you go out.
  • Make your exit with minimal fuss, so they don’t get wound up with worry about when you’re coming back. But you should never leave a puppy on its own, or on its own in a crate, for long periods.
  • When you return home, don’t make it a big deal

Can my puppy sleep in the crate?

Once your puppy is relaxed in the crate, you can use it as their overnight bed. But only put your pup to sleep in the crate when they’re very tired. Otherwise, it may seem like a punishment.

Make sure the crate is nice and comfy and consider placing it near to your own bed. This way they’ll be comforted by hearing you close by and you’ll hear if they wake in the night and start whining to go out to the toilet. After you’ve taken them out to do their business, put them back in the crate to encourage continued sleep.

If you want your dog to use the crate to sleep, you need to be consistent. Dogs like routine and it could be confusing and anxiety-inducing for them if they sometimes sleep in the crate and sometimes don’t.

A few puppy crate training considerations

The key to success with the crate is making sure your dog feels comfortable and relaxed in the space. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you’re crate training:

  • Make sure your crate is comfortable. Line it with a blanket or something that smells of you – an old sweater or similar. You could also put a blanket over the top of a wire crate to make it feel cosier and more like a den. But make sure your puppy is able to breathe easily when the blanket is over the crate.
  • If your dog is anxious or reluctant to go into the crate, put their food inside and gradually push it further back as they gain confidence.
  • Make sure your puppy always has access to water. Put a bowl of water in the crate if you’re leaving them in there for any length of time.
  • Don’t crate your puppy for long. Dogs are sociable pets and puppies can’t hold their bladders for very long.
  • Take your puppy out to do their business before you crate them, to avoid messy accidents.
  • Don’t use the crate as a punishment – this will undo all your hard work, since your puppy won’t want to spend time in there. But you can use the crate for time-outs if they get overexcited.
  • You can gradually phase out treats for going into the crate, or start using them exclusively for longer periods spent in the crate - but keep up the praise and don’t leave your puppy on its own in a crate for extended periods of time.
  • If your puppy starts getting anxious or stressed around the crate, go back a step and take it slower.
  • Give your puppy access to their crate at all times, so they get used to it being part of their environment and start choosing to go in and out by themselves.
  • You can stop crating your dog as soon as you can trust them not to chew up the furniture. After that, they should start voluntarily going to their crate.
  • The key to successful crate training is to be consistent and persevere. As your puppy matures into an adult dog, you may not need to use a crate of any size at all – many dog owners don’t.

I’ve got a new puppy, do I need pet insurance? 

It’s ideal to protect your precious pup with puppy insurance as soon as you can. That way, you can have cover for expensive vets bills and your puppy will be insured before they develop any health conditions. (Many pet insurance policies won’t cover health conditions your pet already has.)

Pet insurance needn’t be expensive. If you’re concerned about the price, there may be ways to reduce the cost of your pet insurance.

Shopping around is one of the easiest ways to get a great-value deal. So why not compare quotes with us today and see if you can save?

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